Lives of the fellows

Robert Johnston Porter

b.4 November 1910 d.19 March 1969
BA Cantab(1932) MRCS LRCP(1935) MA MB BChir(1937) MRCP(1940) FRCP(1964)

Robert Porter was born in Portrush, Co. Antrim, N. Ireland, and his father, Dr. William Porter, was a general practitioner. His mother, Annie Johnston, had come from Belfast, where her father, Dr. David Johnston, practised at Clifton Street, Belfast. One of his paternal uncles was The Right Hon. Lord Justice S.C. Porter of N. Ireland, who died in 1955.

He was educated at Clifton College, going to Selwyn College, Cambridge in 1929. He came down to the London Hospital in 1932, qualifying with the Conjoint Board in 1935. He was house surgeon to the Neurosurgical Department in 1936, and house physician to George Riddoch and Horace Evans in 1937. He was then assistant in the Department of Pathology and became first assistant in the Neurological Department in 1938.

At the onset of the war he initially worked as assistant physician at Chase Farm Hospital and Haymeads Hospital, from 1939 to 1941, when he joined the army and became medical specialist at the Military Hospital (Head Injuries) at Oxford, and afterwards Command Neurologist (Eastern Command) in 1943; then to the Scottish Command until July 1944, when he became Neurologist BLA, and in September, 1945 was O/C Medical Division, 94th British General Hospital in Hamburg.

In 1947 he was appointed Physician with special interest in Neurology at the Central Middlesex Hospital, and in the following year as consultant neurologist to the North West Metropolitan Regional Board. In 1962 he was appointed a member of the teaching staff of the Middlesex Hospital Medical School in recognition of his work as a teacher of the Middlesex medical students who were working at the Central Middlesex Hospital, and he was responsible for a firm of students who came down to this district general hospital for three months at a time.

Within neurology he was particularly interested in two of the more common neurological problems - epilepsy and multiple sclerosis. He was troubled by the stigma that attached itself to the epileptic and how, for lack of adequate treatment and supervision, the patient was too often denied a place in society. He built up a large epilepsy outdoor clinic, and the principles and practice he followed were clearly enunciated in an outstanding paper he delivered to the Irish Epilepsy Association in 1967. Two papers of special interest which he wrote were: ‘Familial Fructose and Galactose Intolerance’ (Lancet, 1961), and ‘Pulmonary Fibrosis and Encephalopathy Associated with Inhalation of Aluminium Dust’ (British Journal of Industrial Medicine, 1961). At the Central Middlesex Hospital he set himself with quiet efficiency to build a department of neurology, and played an important role as consultant neurologist, visiting a number of hospitals in the north-west region and linking up in this way with the neurosurgical unit under Mr. T.G.I. James with whom he worked in very close collaboration. His temperament was well suited to neurology. He had a clear, prescient mind, geared to great patience and a wide human sympathy. His colleagues appreciated not only his outstanding ability in the diagnosis and management of the difficult neurological problems but equally his skill and aptitude for dealing with functional neurological disorders and particularly the anxiety states. Indeed, in this respect he was his own psychiatrist, and a very successful one. His patience and kindness, and his ability to listen and restore perspective to the patients’ problems were quite remarkable. It was not only patients who benefited from this approach, but also the many students and junior medical staff who passed through his Department.

Throughout his life he remained keenly interested in rowing and sailing, and was a member of the Leander Club. Each year without fail he attended the regatta at Henley. As an undergraduate at Cambridge he had been Boat Captain of Selwyn College in 1931 and 1932.

He married Monica Ruth Branson on 27th July, 1940. She was the daughter of the Rev. Canon George Branson, Canon of Southwark Cathedral. They had three daughters. He died on 19th March, 1969, at his home in Harrow, his Oslerian equanimity and gentle humour having sustained him throughout a long and tragic illness.

Sir Francis Avery Jones

[Brit.med.J., 1969, 2, 56, 194; Lancet, 1969, 1, 737]

(Volume VI, page 380)

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